Supreme Court to consider broadcast decency standards

Washington DC, Mar 19, 2008 / 06:01 am (CNA).- In its first major broadcast indecency case in thirty years, the Supreme Court will consider whether radio and television channels can be punished for broadcasting “fleeting expletives”.

The government has banned “fleeting expletives,” one-time uses of indecent words like the “F-word” that can bring big fines.

The case under consideration, FCC vs. Fox Television Stations, 07-582, was instigated by the Federal Communications Commission’s 2006 ruling that two broadcasts of the “Billboard Music Awards” were indecent. On two separate shows, the actor-musician Cher and the reality show star Nicole Richie used an obscenity beginning with “f.”

Though the FCC levied no fines, Fox Broadcasting Co. and others appealed the decision. They claimed the agency had changed its enforcement policy without warning and argued the new ban was unconstitutional.

A New York federal appeals court, in a 2-1 decision, agreed with the plaintiffs and threw out the ban. The FCC then appealed to the Supreme Court.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told the Associated Press that he was pleased the Supreme Court would hear the appeal. He said that the New York federal appellate court "put the commission in an untenable position," giving the FCC the responsibility to enforce indecency rules but taking away the tools of enforcement.

Fox Broadcasting Co. said the case gives the company "the opportunity to argue that the FCC's expanded enforcement of the indecency law is unconstitutional in today's diverse media marketplace where parents have access to a variety of tools to monitor their children's television viewing."

The Media Access Project argued that the present policy is "incoherent and overbroad and has "chilled the creative process for the writers, directors and producers we represent."

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